Nightmares from the England tour are back to haunt India. With nine days to go before the first Test against Australia, it has emerged that pace bowler Ishant Sharma may be a doubtful starter because of his ankle injury. Reports indicated the team management had given itself a day to decide if they need a cover for the seamer from Delhi.

Ishant is expected to play a leading role in Australia, given an inexperienced bowling lineup and the fact that spearhead and 79-Test veteran Zaheer Khan is returning from a long injury layoff.

If Ishant, with experience of 41 Tests and a previous Australia tour, is out, it will be a severe setback for Dhoni's team. India will then be left with Umesh Yadav (2 Tests), Vinay Kumar (yet to debut) and A Mithun (4 Tests) in the pace department.

With his ankle injury flaring up, pacer Ishant Sharma's predicament has shaped up to be uncannily similar to Zaheer Khan's short stint in England.

Zaheer had hardly bowled in the tour opener against Somerset and then pulled up with a hamstring injury after bowling a few overs in the opening Test at Lord's.

It was during the third Test of that series at Edgbaston that Ishant sustained a ligament injury to his left ankle. Has he carried that into this tour?

It appears that Ishant, who bowled only 5.3 overs in India's opening tour game Down Under, may not play in the three-day game against a Cricket Australia Chairman's XI side starting on Monday.

Even if he is declared fit ahead of the first Test, the Delhi bowler will be undercooked for the rigours of Test cricket, having played no competitive match since the final Test against the West Indies in Mumbai last month.

And what if like Zaheer, he pulls out in the middle of a Test?

The lessons from England, it seems, haven't been learned and injury management remains low on the priority for the Indian board. Varun Aaron and Praveen Kumar were withdrawn because of injury issues even before the team left Indian shores.

Are India's pace bowling resources so thin they were desperate to carry Ishant along, hoping he would be up to it? Initially, the player said he was hoping to delay surgery till after the Australia tour, but last month he declared that his ankle was healed and that he did not need the surgery. "There is no risk about it (the ankle)," Ishant had said.

So, who decided that Ishant was match-fit for a rigorous tour - the player or BCCI? Were the selectors apprised of his condition?

Ishant bowled merely five overs in the two-day match against Cricket Australia Chairman's Eleven on Thursday before retiring to the dressing room due to "discomfort" in his left ankle. He had consulted a local doctor after that.

Zaheer, incidentally, has only bowled in the nets so far in Australia. He gave a miss to the two-day game and his return in the forthcoming match next week is eagerly anticipated.

He took part in two Ranji Trophy matches before earning the nod of the selectors as the 17th member of the squad for the Australia tour. Zaheer took seven wickets in 43 overs in those two Ranji matches.

Everyone is hoping injury won't be an issue with him this time around for he has never completed a full tour of Australia. In 2003, he played in two Tests while the last time around in 2007-08, he only played in Melbourne.

He did capture 10 wickets from the three Tests, but his average was almost 40.00 for each wicket. Zaheer bowled for 20-odd minutes on Thursday and didn't turn up for the optional nets at the Manuka Oval on Saturday.

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